NJ Governor Vetoes “Heat and Eat” Bill

May 13, 2016—Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill (A-1210) to coordinate the LIHEAP and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, commonly known as “Heat and Eat,” in New Jersey. Governor Christie recommended the legislation be amended to guarantee that individuals eligible for energy assistance through LIHEAP under the plan receive a minimum $21 benefit, as is required by the 2014 Farm Bill. He also stated that individuals applying for SNAP’s Standard Utility Allowance should be required to demonstrate an energy expense before receiving the benefit.

Prior to the 2014 Farm Bill, LIHEAP grantees had coordinated their LIHEAPs with SNAPs through Heat and Eat programs that provided nominal benefits to help low-income households maximize their Standard Utility Allowance under SNAP. Heat and Eat programs were originally introduced to help mitigate the negative impact rising energy costs had on low-income households’ ability to meet basic needs, such as nutrition. The Food Security Act of 1985 allowed states to give the highest Standard Utility Allowance to low-income households that received LIHEAP benefits.

Under Heat and Eat, SNAP applicants can provide documentation proving they receive LIHEAP benefits as proof of energy burden in order to receive the Standard Utility Allowance. The 2014 Farm Bill implemented the requirement that the energy assistance provided as part of Heat and Eat needed to be more than $20. In light of this change, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advised LIHEAP grantees that they needed to ensure that the highest LIHEAP benefits go to the households with the lowest incomes and the highest energy needs or costs, pursuant to Assurance 5. Heat and Eat, the federal agency has reminded grantees, doesn’t necessarily comply with that Assurance if the benefit is set merely to qualify an applicant for more SNAP benefits.

The conditional veto of A-1210 means the bill is vetoed unless the legislature agrees to the changes proposed by Governor Christie. Overriding a veto would require a two-third vote by each chamber of the legislature. For more information and history about Heat and Eat, see the Clearinghouse’s August 2014 Issue Brief, “A New Framework for ‘Heat and Eat’: LIHEAP and SNAP After the 2014 Farm Bill.”

Sources: Press Release, LIHEAP Clearinghouse